I’ve always been fascinated by hermits, those saints whom God leads away from the crowds and into solitude. There is something appealing about a man for whom ‘the world’ holds little to no appeal. For one thing, the impulse seems so alien to contemporary evangelicalism with its emphasis on activity, relevance, and extroversion. There is something deeply compelling about a spirituality that doesn’t rely on frenetic busyness, a perennial fear of irrelevance, and the frantic need to be talking. Slow and steady wins the race.
Of course, not all hermits are religious and not all religious hermits are faithfully Christian–Thoreau for example. Yet, Thoreau captured something of what may appeal to many when he wrote:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
Of course, Christian hermits are those who have been invited into a life of unbroken prayer for the world rather than a semi-spiritual journey of self actualization like Thoreau. For more on a Catholic perspective on contemporary hermits you can read this article from The Catholic World Report.
Here’s a brief excerpt:
“Protestants seem to identify more with what we do—intercessory prayer. We get a lot of Protestant visitors. They see it in the element of the praying Church. When people come they are evangelized by the place. When people come, they experience the beauty of nature, and Christian art.”
“Protestants seem to understand [the hermitic life] better than most Catholics,… When [Catholics] see monks, they think we don’t do anything for anybody, but when a person does a good thing, it affects everybody. It’s the Communion of Saints.”
It’s possible that a renewed interest in the call to solitude may be the quiet and unobserved foundation of the church’s renewal in the 21st century. What do you think?